Rambert&handbags

Over my head, two huge wasps hang motionless. From my position, flat on my back on the Theatre Royal stage, they are quite threatening, though motionless. I’m recovering from the first exercise. At 9.45 on a Saturday morning, Amanda, the teacher from Ballet Rambert, has just made us drop, bring one knee forward to a right angle, stretch the other leg back, lift our arms… oh, come on. We’re all over 60. A quiet word from Hannah, our project manager, and Amanda adjusts her expectations of us. She’s young, dynamic, funny, and very very fit. It’s strange to look out on the old gilded theatre, as we twist, stretch, and windmill to some loud mashup dance track booming out, but it’s exhilarating too.

After two hours of this, and the full English breakfast, we cross to the Corn Exchange for three hours of rehearsal for ‘Handbag’ – a performance involving over a hundred women dancing round their handbags, and walk-on parts for twelve men, in the vast space. It starts with one woman at each end (the audience are corralled in the middle behind hazard tape) to an extended ‘Billie Jean’, while our group huddle behind a door, trying not to laugh, talk or sneeze, before we make our separate entrances onto the floor. We do six performances, then sprint off to see the Rambert show, where beautiful young bodies fly through the air in white pants, to a video backdrop of a snake writhing through flames, a burning erotic flower and snowdrops falling into diamonds…

Pina Bausch’s company at Sadler’s Wells is a different kettle of goldfish: from inside a distorted white room, windows show a cactus garden, a tropical garden, and big tanks of, yes, goldfish. This is not ballet, it’s dance-theatre. Surreal, if not actually dada, it shows the everyday human condition in bizarre scenes. Men in dinner jackets threaten, bully and cajole women in evening dresses: I shudder each time an axe is brought on-stage (usually to chop oranges for drinks though). A distraught woman crashes from wall to wall, her arm in a sling, shackled by a saucepan; four couples waltz all around the room on their bottoms, perfectly synchronised; an old transvestite dons flippers to share the goldfish-bath; a naked man quietly sprays himself white from toe to hair… Well, you had to be there. Phew.

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